Favorites France advanced to the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup (WC) by overcoming tournament leading scorers England in a thrilling quarterfinal match.
Morocco is the surprise opponent for Les Bleus, who have won six straight World Cup knockout games.
Fast transitions characterized the first 20 minutes of the match between England and France, a match that had not taken place at the World Cup since England defeated France 3-1 in 1982. Within that time, Les Bleus had taken the lead thanks to an effective counterattack.
In order for Aurélien Tchouaméni to get the ball, Kylian Mbappé had to ride Declan Rice’s challenge. Tchouaméni then fired a low shot past Pickford from a distance.
The England team may have felt vindicated after Dayot Upamecano’s excessive challenge in the buildup to the goal, but they soon had more cause to be incensed.
As the Three Lions looked for a reaction, Harry Kane was significantly engaged. He was shoved over by Upamecano on the outskirts of the area, but once again nothing was given, assuring the French would lead at halftime.
That advantage, though, appeared flimsy immediately following the interval as Jude Bellingham and Harry Maguire each came dangerously close.
At this point, an equalizer appeared certain, and it was practically delivered to England.
By carelessly knocking Bukayo Saka to the ground in the box, Tchouaméni transformed from a hero to a villain, allowing Kane to smash a spot-kick beyond Hugo Lloris.
After that goal, it seemed as though the game picked more speed. England clipped the post with a header from Harry Maguire, and then Luke Shaw’s perilous cross briefly sent the crowd into a frenzy.
At the other end, Olivier Giroud forced Jordan Pickford to make a quick save before breaking England’s hearts moments later.
When Antoine Griezmann’s looping cross found Giroud in the box, he slammed a header in off Maguire.
In this WC, very little has gone as planned, and just on schedule, more drama was served up. Theo Hernández’s strong box-punch on substitute Mason Mount led to a make-or-break late penalty for the always dependable Kane.
However, the England skipper blazed over despite bearing the unenviable weight of his country.
The Three Lions put on a good performance, but ultimately fell short as France won a closely contested encounter to become the first country to win consecutive World Cups since Brazil in 1962.
Morocco shocked Portugal 1-0 in the Al Thumama Stadium to advance to the FIFA World Cup semifinals, becoming the first African team to do so.
These World Cup finals have a history of having tight, cautious first halves, with neither team eager to take chances.
This game was no exception, with Morocco displaying tremendous positional discipline to neutralize Portugal’s numerous creative threats.
Since Nayef Aguerd and Noussair Mazraoui were both injured, Walid Regragui was forced to make changes to the defense that had only allowed one goal in their previous eight games.
Center-back fill-in before the half, Jawad El Yamiq was called upon to act, vitally deflecting Joo Félix’s attempt wide of the target, and it was an intervention that would be rewarded.
The Atlas Lions gained momentum and pulled ahead as halftime neared after successfully stopping Portugal for the majority of the first half.
Diogo Costa misjudged Yahia Attiyat Allah’s cross, failing to reach it as Youssef En-Nesyri towered above him and nodded into an empty net.
Bruno Fernandes nearly provided an immediate answer with his fantastic effort that looped over Yassine Bounou, but he was stopped by the crossbar. Fernando Santos’ team would now need to breach the tournament’s strongest backline to get back into the game.
However, with few other options for attack, Santos turned to his captain and introduced Cristiano Ronaldo for his 196th international appearance for men’s football, tying a world record.
Even with Ronaldo on the field, Fernandes has shown to be Portugal’s most dangerous attacker. The Manchester United midfielder nearly missed the crossbar with a strong effort from the edge of the box.
A magnificent Moroccan rearguard completely crushed a team that had appeared so fluid in their devastation of Switzerland, thus any dangers were brief.
Bounou was always ready to step up and take the lead whenever a weakness might be exploited, executing a spectacular save to stop Félix as time ran out.
The Atlas Lions’ tenacious defense, inspired by a raucous crowd, helped them become the first Arab country and qualifier from the CAF area to reach the World Cup semifinals, setting up another exciting matchup with France, who later defeated England.
With Portugal as their most recent victim, they have now failed to advance past the semifinals for four straight finals appearances.
The Euro 2016 champions are entering a new era as seasoned players Ronaldo and Pepe approach the end of their careers.